The Default + My First LCSH Proposal

Much more astute people than I have written about societal defaults in perceptions of people. ‘Regular’ is white person, ‘other’ is POC; ‘normal’ is men, ‘special’ is women.

Here’s an older post on the topic of male as default and below is a tweet from just the other day.

Our friend LCSH is no different. There are subject headings such as:

Flight attendants, which have an NT of Gay flight attendants. I see two possible unstated assumptions here —

  1. Flight attendants are ‘normally’ not gay and thus we need to mark those that are as distinct from the ‘normal’ version
  2. There is a preponderance of work about Gay flight attendants as a specific group which must need have their own headings to most accurately describe those works

[This occurs throughout LCSH and at a future point I will address it more broadly (I really need to start writing down what I’ve said I will examine at a future point…thus ensuring I do!)]

The former assumption is shitty, and re-affirms ‘difference’ as abnormality and other. The latter assumption bears examination, so let’s head to WorldCat and see what we see.

As a subject, WorldCat returns 2,027 hits for ‘Flight attendant’, and 10  for ‘Gay flight attendant’. These are those 10 –

  1. My best man — a novel, doesn’t use the actual heading, but it was published before the heading was created in 2007
  2. Fly to him  — a novel, doesn’t use the actual heading
  3. Jeff’s way — a biography of a flight attendant killed on American Airlines 11, on 9/11. This is the book which prompted the creation of the heading as seen in the 670 field of the heading itself. 
  4. Gracias por volar conmigo — a biography of Fernando Peña, who created a popular character Milagros Lopez while he was a flight attendant (and continued performing in the role later in life), it uses the heading.
  5. Stewardess boy — a novel, doesn’t use the actual heading, though it may be apt
  6. Manhood up in the air : gender, sexuality, corporate culture, and the law in twentieth century America – a PhD thesis which doesn’t use the heading, but would be a good fit; as an aside, it seems really interesting!
  7. Another version of 6
  8. Poster and Broadside Collection of Tamiment Institute Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, [ca. 1904-1991] — 2000 posters in an archive, false positive from two different unrelated headings
  9. Technology and gay identity: the case of the pre-Second World War male flight attendant — a journal article, doesn’t use the heading (or any headings) but would be a good fit
  10. Another version of 9

I also hopped over to LC’s catalog to see what’s cooking over there — they have a decent number of hits containing Flight attendant (LC’s interface breaks them into facets so adding them up would be tedious as hell) and a grand total of zero for Gay flight attendant. That’s right, the very book that they cite as the impetus for the heading — they don’t have it. Sorry Jeff.

So what have we learned? Are there enough works specifically on Gay flight attendants to justify the heading? Sure! But then, I’m much more comfortable than LC is on creating more faceted intersectional headings. Heck, here’s four more books which don’t use the heading, but could!

Steward and the Wolf by Laurent Jarr

Plane Queer: Labor, Sexuality, and AIDS in the History of Male Flight Attendants By Philip James Tiemeyer

The Impact of Work on Gay Male Identity Among Male Flight Attendants by Kay V. Adams

Confessions of a Qantas Flight Attendant by Owen Beddall

The real question here, the whole dang point is: Does having an NT heading like this mean that ‘Flight attendants’ should only be applied if the resource is not about gay flight attendants? Should it also have an NT of ‘Heterosexual flight attendants’, ‘Lesbian flight attendants’, ‘Bisexual flight attendants’, ‘Flexual flight attendants’, etc. There’s certainly literary warrant for all — don’t make me go digging, but I’ll find those books.


One of the few place I could find LC actually stating something on this kind of “what does this heading really mean” question, is:

Heterosexual mothers (May Subd Geog)
Here are entered works on mothers that emphasize their heterosexuality, usually in contrast to lesbians as mothers. General works on mothers without regard to their sexuality are entered under Mothers.

LC is saying that the resource has to specify that it’s about heterosexual parents, if it’s a general resource about parents even if all the parents mentioned or presented as examples are heterosexual — then you place it under ‘Mothers’. Again, for the folks in the back, if you write a book called, “Barbara Bush, Virginia Clinton Kelley, and Dorothy Walker Bush: Mothers” — unless you specifically mention their being heterosexual in the contents, the heading couldn’t be applied — you’d apply the heading ‘Mothers.’* As though this book somehow encompasses all aspects and versions of motherhood and not straight, white, cis, America, motherhood.

This long and rambly post is all a lead-up to say, that I have submitted my first LCSH proposal! I filled out their form (which is VERY hard to write in!) and found good sources for “Cisgender people” a term currently not in the LCSH, as they have very few, and poor at that, terms for gender whatsoever.

More to come on Marked-Others in LCSH, and I will update this post when/if my proposal moves along in the process.


*Before you come parping at me, YES I know that you’d actually apply ” Mothers of presidents–United States”


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